20 Mar Banking in Japan: The Top Foreigner-Friendly Bank Accounts You Need to Know About
Believe it or not but a bank account is among the most precious assets for foreigners in Japan.
Here are the reasons:
Salary and Employment: Most employers in Japan will only pay their employees through direct deposit into a bank account.
Daily Transactions: Having a bank account allows you to perform daily transactions such as paying bills, making purchases, and withdrawing money from ATMs.
Renting an Apartment: Many landlords require that you have a Japanese bank account to pay rent and utility bills.
Credit Cards: Most credit card companies in Japan require that you have a Japanese bank account to set up automatic payments for your credit card bills. Additionally, credit card applications often require you to provide your bank account information to verify your identity and financial stability.
International Money Transfers: Having a bank account in Japan can also make it easier to receive international money transfers and send money to other countries.
Visa Extension: When applying for a visa extension in Japan, one of the requirements may be to show proof of sufficient funds. A Japanese bank account can serve as proof of your financial stability in Japan.
Overall, having a Japanese bank account is crucial for foreigners living in Japan to facilitate their daily lives and financial transactions.
This article will explain a quick path to your Japanese bank account and recommend the most foreigner-friendly banks, especially with concern to your language abilities.
First of all, be aware of a possible big difference to your country: In Japan, people often have many bank accounts. One estimate is about seven (!) accounts per adult.
The strange, but logical reason is that the maintenance of bank accounts in Japan is traditionally free, but transfer fees are gratis only between accounts of the same bank. To avoid paying fees for a transfer to different banks, you need to have an account at the same bank as the person or institution to which you are sending the money.
Now, for foreigners, here is the most important point to know: If you are staying in Japan for less than 90 days, you will not be able to open a bank account in Japan. Also, if your stay is less than six months, you are not allowed to open a bank account due to the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Control Act, despite a valid long-term resident visa (over 90 days).
The main exception is the Japan Post Bank (see below) which offers a type of account enabling only cash deposits and withdrawals for the first six months of your stay in Japan. Some other banks may also allow this option without openly advertising it.
The requirements for the opening of an account differ from bank to bank.
In general, your passport, resident card (zairyu card), a certificate of residence (jyuminhyo from your local townhall), your personal seal (inkan/hanko), your telephone number (fixed line or mobile), verification of your address (like a copy of your electricity or water bill or envelopes addressed to you), a business card or other verification document that shows your name in katakana might be required.
Here is our selection of six foreigner-friendly banks. (The order is not meant as a rating or ranking.)
Japan Post Bank (Yucho) – the most common bank
Japan Post Bank, yucho ginko in Japanese, is Japan’s largest bank, and in terms of deposits, the world’s largest. Most Japanese have an account with the Post Bank (it starts often with the payment for the school meal). This bank allows foreigners to open an account without the requirement of a 6-month-residence in the country. However, you can only make deposits or withdrawals until you have reached the sixth month of living in Japan.
The Japan Post Bank staff at branches is very helpful and patient. But you can also apply online in 16 different languages. Different from an application at a branch, you will receive only a bank card to check your balance and make transfers at ATMs.
Withdrawal at Japan Post Bank ATMs (in most post offices throughout Japan) is free. The fixed fee for an overseas money transfer is 7,500 yen.
Rakuten Bank – the largest online bank
Rakuten Bank is Japan’s largest online bank with 12.3 million customers in 2022. Online banking means that it does not have any branches for face-to-face meetings or its own dedicated ATM network. It offers an online application service in English. The banking app and the desktop website for regular services are in Japanese only, though.
The bank offers an extensive lineup of financial services, which include ordinary deposits, time deposits, foreign currency deposits, bank deposit transfers, withdrawals, transfers using instant messaging, home loans, credit card loans, and asset management tools.
Rakuten Bank has benefited from the “Rakuten universe” of financial and e-commerce services. For example, if you additionally use a Rakuten credit card, you earn points that are later redeemable for cash at all Rakuten service outlets.
Unfortunately, for legal reasons, businesses cannot use Rakuten Bank (and any other full online bank in Japan) to open corporate accounts (because the law demands that a business representative has to show up in person at a bank counter). Business-related remittances of foreign currencies are also not allowed.
Sony Bank – the newcomer online bank
Sony Bank is another online bank, there are no retail outlets. Its banking app is in Japanese, but since 2019, you can sign up for an account via a separate English “Sony Bank Open Account” app. Check out the procedure and requirements for an application here.
Sony Bank handles 11 foreign currencies and deposits and transfers are at comparably reasonable exchange rates and interest fees. As explained above, corporate accounts are not allowed because this bank has no actual branches.
As is customary in Japan, Sony Bank does not charge a fee for account maintenance. ATM withdrawals in Japan are 100 Yen, and an overseas money transfer costs 3,000 Yen.
SBI Shinsei Bank – a long-time foreigner favorite
Shinsei Bank was a pioneer in services for foreigners in Japan (because it was bought by a foreign company). The bank has an English interface to apply for an account and mail in the form. You can also go to one of their branches and apply in person.
Additional support is provided by a toll-free English-speaking customer call line. The smartphone app is only available in Japanese. Again, you have to go in person to a branch if you need to open a corporate account.
The overseas transfer fee is 2,000 Yen per remittance, the ATM withdrawal fee is 110 Yen.
Seven Bank – another convenient online bank
Seven Bank is a subsidiary of Seven & I Holdings known for owning Japan’s largest network of convenience stores, 7-Eleven. These stores usually have ATMs that accept a wide variety of cards, including foreign-issued ones, and provide a wide range of services. You can apply for an account in English here.
Be aware of the fee structure that deviates from Japanese “traditions”: Withdrawals at Seven Bank ATMs are 110 Yen on weekday and weekend daytime, but free on weekdays and weekend after hours. A transfer to another Seven Bank account is charged 54 Yen while normally, transfers in-between the same bank’s accounts are free in Japan.
SMBC Prestia Trust Bank – good for high earners
As the name implies, SMBC Prestia Trust Bank is a bank that you trust to store a lot of money for you. This bank allows you to deposit savings in 17 foreign currencies, 4 more than Shinsei. Another advantage is that no personal seal is required for the account application procedure. Online banking and customer support are available in English. Check here.
Overseas transfer fees are 2,500 yen, and ATM withdrawal is free at SMBC machines (and MUFG machines due to a cooperation agreement between the two groups). You need 500,000 Yen (or 200,000 Yen in foreign currencies) average balance for free account maintenance. If your balance is below these thresholds, SMBC Trust Bank charges you 2,200 Yen per month.
To be honest, I do not envy you for your choice since the three main financial groups Mitsubishi UFJ, Sumitomo Mitsui and Mizuho are also offering accounts to foreigners. But what counts most in my eyes is the convenience. The systems of these “traditional” banks are not very modern resulting in lengthy procedures.
The author: Martin Fritz, a long-time Japan resident, writes mainly about economics and finance in Japan for newspapers and magazines in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.
Disclaimer: While we do our best to present the correct information, we are not responsible for any mistake and its consequences. This post was published on March 20, 2023. Please be aware that the world is constantly changing.